Beginning today, elders have six weeks – until 31 December – to re-enroll in a Medicare Part D plan, the prescription drug program. If you want to keep the coverage you have now, you need do nothing. But before you make that decision, it is a good idea to check the changes that may have been made for 2007.
Your plan is required to have sent you, by 31 October, an Annual Notice of Change letter, but that doesn’t mean they did. Mine had not. So if you have not received the letter, call your provider. Do it soon; I phoned more than a week ago and it hasn't arrived yet.
While on the telephone, I asked what changes are being made to my plan. Price creep is in the air from most providers and in my case:
- The monthly premium increases by $1.59
- The coverage before the “doughnut hole” kicks in increases by $150
- However, out-of-pocket expenses during the doughnut hole increase by $250
- The co-pay for generic drug prescriptions increases by one dollar
And don’t forget that monthly premiums continue throughout the doughnut hole period during which you pay full price for prescription drugs.
There are many more plans from which to choose this year. A few offer coverage for the doughnut hole although at much higher premiums and then only for generic drugs. The Medicare website has a fairly easy tool to compare plans in your state. The one glitch is to enter your start date for only Part A OR Part B. If you enter both, the tool refuses to move forward, without explaining the reason.
If you decide to switch plans, just enroll in the new one on the Medicare website or by calling the Medicare help line (1.800.MEDICARE) or by calling the plan directly. You do not need to un-enroll from your current plan. It's a good idea to do this by 8 December so receipt of your new Part D card is not delayed past the 1 January start date.
Nancy Pelosi, who will likely become the new speaker of the House of Representatives, has said she wants Congress to overhaul Plan D within the first hundred hours of the new session to allow Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies.
Even if she can accomplish that (I doubt it), the new Congress will not be sworn in until after the deadline for enrollment in Plan D and Democratic control or not, Congress does not move quickly. Plus, White House spokespersons have already indicated the president is likely to veto any such measure. So we should assume the current rules for Plan D will obtain at least until next year’s enrollment period for 2008.
You have six weeks from today to switch to a new Part D plan if that is your choice. It’s not difficult, but it’s a good idea to get started now.